With my now 2 week old bad back but generally ‘healthy’ appearance, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about who’s entitled to sit on the subway. If you’re clearly pregnant, or on crutches, or blind, people will often be quite generous and offer a seat. Even if they don’t, there’s a very visual reason why you would be “entitled” to one if you wanted one.
The MTA actually mandates in a frequently played public service announcement that “If you see an elderly, pregnant, or disabled person near you, offer your seat. You’ll be standing up for what’s right. Courtesy is contagious and it begins with you.” Some jerks think that’s ridiculous, but I do believe that for the most part, an aware person is happy to comply.
But for less visible infirmities, such as an injured back, vertigo, nausea, a bum knee, or pounding headache, people can’t be expected to know that and offer you a seat. You will be bumped and forced to reach for a pole regardless of your problem. So, it’s my conclusion that if you do have an issue and need a seat, ASK. If you don’t, good luck. And, if someone is asking, they probably have a legitimate reason, so give it up unless you have one too.
Me? I haven’t asked. But that means I can’t really complain, either.
YES, there are people who lie. YES, there are times at the end of the day when the last thing you want is to stand. YES, people show (unfair) sexism and ageism when they do ask for seats. It’s not a perfect system. But it should be more ok for people to ask for a seat, and more normal to hear that and oblige. For random people’s thoughts on this issue, check out this Metafilter forum.